Jacqueline Auriol is France’s most distinguished aviatrix. Born 5 November 1917 in Challans, France, she is the daughter of a wealthy shipbuilder and timber importer. After graduating from the university in Nantes, she studied art at the Ecole du Louvre in Paris. In 1938, she married Paul Auriol, son of Vincent Auriol, a prominent leader in the Socialist party. During World War II, Madame Auriol, by that time the mother of two sons, evaded Gestapo agents and assisted the French Resistance. After the war ended, Vincent Auriol became President of France, and Paul Auriol served as his father’s press secretary. Madame Auriol soon became immersed in the social activities of the Palais Elysee. She took up flying in 1947, earned her tourist license the following year, and started stunt flying.
In July 1949, Madame Auriol was severely injured when a seaplane, in which she was a passenger, crashed into the Seine. Over the next two years, she underwent 22 operations to rebuild her face. But she did not give up flying. Between her last two operations in the United States, she earned her helicopter rating in only four weeks at the Bell Aircraft factory in New York. In 1950, Madame Auriol gained her military license and qualified at the Flight Test Centre at Bretigny, France, as the world’s first woman test pilot. On 11 May 1951, she set a new women’s speed record in a British Vampire jet, flying 508.8 mph and besting Jacqueline Cochran’s previous record, set in a P-51. This began a friendly rivalry between the two ladies, and they traded the women’s world speed record for over a decade. Madame Auriol went on to beat her own record on 21 December 1952 in the Mistral.
Flying a Mystere IV on 3 August 1953, she became the second woman to break the sound barrier. She then reclaimed the speed title from Miss Cochran on 31 May 1955, this time in the Mystere IVN. The title of “fastest woman” returned to Madame Auriol two more times: on 22 June 1962 in the Mirage IIIC and on 14 June 1963 in the Mirage IIIR. Later, she was one of the first pilots to fly the supersonic Concorde. Madame Auriol was awarded the 1952,1953, and 1955 Harmon International Trophies, the Paul Tissander Diploma in 1953, the 1963 Gold Air Medal, La Grande Medaille de L’Aero Club de France in 1963, and the Legion d’Honneur for her record-setting achievements. After leaving the Flight Test Centre, Madame Auriol worked with the Ministere de la Cooperation, using remote sensing techniques to gather information for agricultural development. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization presented her with the Ceres Medal for her significant contributions.